Thoughts on the Laureates in Conversation

The Center for Black Student Success and Writers From the Edge hosted Laureates in Conversation, an evening full of reading and discussion, this past Wednesday, Feb. 23, at the World Theater.

The night opened with a discussion between scholar and author Umi Vaughn and Professor Daniel Summerhill, Monterey County Poet Laureate. Summerhill’s work is proud and straightforward, with the nuance to fully encapsulate all sides of the subject matter. His read invited the audience to the space and encouraged engagement with the performances to follow.

Zoey Atlas’s powerful voice and precise images of her hometown, Los Angeles, captivated the audience. Her read was filled with sentiments of nature, such as: “nefarious gods in three-piece suits scribble their names on bodies on loan from the stars/name those stars after themselves/they use that long white beard to sweep the whole occasion under our skin.”

Elizabeth Wiles had a melodic stage presence and polished dialogue. Her tempo built the world around her poems and invited the audience to fall in. “Can we take all that we desire and spin it new to see what fires/ breathe hot enough to lure it out/Curiosity in our veins since we can remember/shadows dancing on stage even after it’s assembled/ but were still in a cave only loving what remembers, something free.”

Through masterful use of language, Roopa Balance Singh’s poems were a force with an encouraging sense of humor. Her pauses created space for the listener to appreciate their time within the poem. She spoke on unity in identity, the contradiction in language, and taking life breath by breath. “O-n-e spells one. W-o-n spells won. As in countries mast as one/as in no war, can be won/ By what law is the supreme court legitimate? The law of war?/ By war, do you mean asymmetrical, unfair, imbalance/one side with artillery and one side with none/ this is how your legitimacy was won?”

Tongo Eisen-Martin spoke poetry like conversation. He read an array of work, featuring pieces from his new collection, “Blood on the Fog.” He expanded on social justice through vivid city descriptions that evoke a sense of urgency. “I left my watch on the public bathroom sink and took the toilet with me/ I threw it at the first bus I saw eating single mothers half alive/It flew through the line number then on out the front of the white house/ Hopefully you find comfort downtown/ But if not, we’ve brought you enough cigarette filters to make a decent winter coat.”

The floor then opened for audience questions, and the dialogue turned to anti-individualism, authenticity, and the role of a poet in society. Eisen-Martin said, “We don’t have the luxury to be anything but revolutionaries for our generation… our only project is to figure out how to really stabilize the health of resistance, the sanity of resistance, the spirit of resistance.”

All poets featured are worth seeking out, listening to, and listening to again. No description does live poetry justice, so I close out with parting words from Eisen-Martin.

“We are not only vessels of the universe talking, we are vessels of the universe listening. Abandon the quest for fruition and really learn to do right by your practices, second to second to second to second, line to line, to line, poem to poem to poem, and how it plays out, it plays out.”

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